Author: Jon Keys
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: February 19, 2018
Genre(s): Fantasy, Shifter
Page Count: 257 Pages
Reviewed by: ColinJ
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5
Askari, Dhala, and Gyam grew up as childhood friends during happier days for the Chinjoka, an Iron Age people with the ability to shapeshift, but now they must learn their place among the tribe while dealing with both a devastating plague and war with the Misiq.
Ena is a young warrior for the more savage Misiq, a tribe whose cruelty exemplifies their deity—the Angry God. The Misiq, also shifters, have declared a genocidal war against the Chinjoka, blaming them for the disease devastating both tribes. As a result, they are locked in a battle for survival. But when Ena is shown compassion by those he means to harm, he begins to question all he’s ever known.
A chance meeting changes their lives, and maybe their tribes, forever.
The concept of the story is interesting as it reifies and incorporates spirit animals into human castes within a hunter/gatherer society. This is also layered with a magic system centred on healing and the intervention of deities in everyday life. As such, this is quite a complex and layered world. The reader is faced with metamorphosis as natural part of the world, with those who manifest in particular ways becoming members of higher social castes. All of this is revealed as the story progresses. There is no preamble, the plot unfolds and the world building becomes apparent as a consequence of this, rather than the plot sitting within a defined world. This works reasonably well but there are gaps in understanding, as no real time is given to development.
The characterisation is sufficient for the plot and for the understanding of the world building. The individuals are not the most fully developed and as such it is not always easy to empathise with them. The plot revolves around a devastating illness and how this impacts both at an individual as well as societal level. The individuals are inured to this, which is understandable at a conceptual level, but makes it difficult to understand their reactions. These are clearly human-like individuals but their passions seem somewhat animalistic.
Time does not pass smoothly and there are occasions where there are distinct gaps in information. This requires the reader to move further in the hope that the story will reveal what has been missed; it has been used as a deliberate writing mechanism, since all the gaps are inevitably filled. The reader will either like this or be frustrated by it.
There are two specific relationships developed. Each has its own set of issues that need to be resolved, but there is clear passion between the individuals. As noted, this is quite animalistic and hormonal, even when desire is long-standing there is a sort of pragmatism about it that makes it quite unusual.
Time lapses aside, the pace is steady. There is certainly conflict, injury and death, but the tension is quite mild throughout. This allows for the slow development of the world building and examination of the different characteristics of this society.
The plot is quite simple and the ending resolves the situational factors that allow for the two couples to be together. However, the larger cultural issues brought about by the illness are not resolved. As such the story is left open to allow for a further book.